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Berta's brain cells were firing right up to the end

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Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012 2:26 pm

Berta Peterson passed away Sept. 28 and her family celebrated her life with a grand get-together at the Lodi Womans Club Friday.

Berta and her late husband Pete were well-known grape growers on Lodi's west side and the club was packed. I walked in late and heard son-in-law Steve von Berg at the microphone. He was telling old stories and vividly describing a woman who loved her family and loved life.

How did she and her husband express that love? By making sure the kids were safe, of course.

Not in the modern way. Today we hover and seldom allow our kids an unsupervised moment. You can't do that on a farm. While the work was being done, the kids roamed a vast expanse. There were tractors in motion and trees to climb, itinerant workers and irrigation canals.

That was the source of Berta's and Pete's biggest fear — that one of the kids would wind up in the canal when their backs were turned and not know how to swim.

Steve brought the house down telling the story of how his wife Carol and her siblings Jim Peterson and Nancy Dobler learned to swim by performing the crawl stroke on the green ottoman in the living room. When that was mastered, they practiced in the bathtub.

Then it was time for the real test. Pete strode a few yards downstream, Berta tied a rope around the middle of one of her "babies" and threw the youngster in the canal.

"Well, it was a gentle throw," Carole told me later. "That's how my Dad learned to swim." The Petersons don't abandon tradition lightly.

Which brings us to the Peterson tradition of enjoying a good laugh. 

Apparently Steve was appointed a central role at Berta's send-off because he got quite a few chuckles at Pete's funeral. "Don't lose you sense of humor," were practically the last words he heard from his mother-in-law.

Steve recounted a startling moment when he and several family members went to Berta's bedside, knowing the end was not far off.

Steve examined her intraveneous fluids. He turned to her somberly:

"Berta, this one says donkey blood."

"Oh, did you donate, too, Steve?"

As the laughter at Womans Club died, he told the well-wishers that she didn't hesitate a beat. Berta Peterson's sense of humor was alive to the very end.

Note: For those you missed it, here is a link to Berta Peterson's obituary.